Are TrueFire Courses Worth It?

When I first started playing guitar in the late ’90s there weren’t a lot of options for guitar instruction. If I wanted to learn something, these were my options:

  1. Figure it out myself
  2. Find someone to teach me
  3. Buy a disorganized, hard-to-read book with confusing diagrams
  4. Buy a video that looked like it was shot in someone’s basement

Since I didn’t have access to a good teacher, I ended up with a lot of blind spots on the instrument.

Thanks to the Internet it’s not like that anymore. Guitarists have easy access to lessons from some of the best players in the world. While there are obviously tons of choices for online guitar lessons, the one I’m most familiar with is TrueFire.

My experience has been very positive. Then again, I’ve been analyzing my playing for a while and have a good idea of where I need to improve.

TrueFire courses offer quality information if you know where your guitar playing is lacking. The pricing is reasonable for what you get. Students who aren’t sure where to begin may have a hard time deciding which courses are worth the effort. That’s where the All Access Pass can help.

Is TrueFire a Good Way to Learn Guitar?

As of this writing, TrueFire boasts a membership of more than 2 million guitar players around the world. The site has thousands of courses from hundreds of educators.

Lessons are available from both desktop and mobile platforms. Many of the lessons include features like video-synced tab and notation, slow-motion playback, video looping, and jam tracks to practice what you’ve learned.

I like the way the service is laid out. It allows me to choose which topics I want to study and work at my own pace. Any time I’ve gotten stuck on a particular course, I have been able to work on something else for a while and come back to the problem later.

True, it’s not like a private lesson where a teacher can assess your weak points and build lessons to move you along to the next level. But you don’t have to risk paying someone for the privilege of ignoring their lessons.

The biggest downside is TrueFire makes it almost too easy to jump around from one course to another without finishing anything. When an awesome course goes on sale for $5, it feels stupid not to buy it.

Over time, it’s possible to amass a library of unfinished courses and courses you still haven’t started. The result is similar to an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Is TrueFire Good for Beginners?

TrueFire is great for beginners who have the drive to succeed. I know that sounds like a lot of baloney, but it’s true. Even an excellent in-person guitar teacher can’t wave a magic wand and make your hands move like Tosin Abasi.

Although there are thousands of courses to choose from, TrueFire categorizes each course according to skill level:

  • Beginner
  • Late Beginner
  • Intermediate
  • Late Intermediate
  • Advanced

This gets a little confusing when courses include multiple skill levels. That’s fine if the course is for beginners and late beginners. The amount of skill and knowledge between those two levels is relatively small.

It can be overwhelming when a course is rated for late intermediate and advanced. There is a much larger knowledge gap between those two levels.

While that may not matter to a beginner, who would likely avoid those courses anyhow, it’s something to be aware of for later.

Another offering for beginners is the Learning Paths accelerated learning plans. While I have not tried this program, it looks promising. The first course in the program, Learn Guitar 1: First Steps for Beginners, is free.

I would recommend that an absolute beginner start with the free course and decide if that learning style is a good fit.

How Much Do TrueFire Courses Cost?

TrueFire’s individual courses can cost between a few dollars all the way up to $100 for a new release from a high-profile artist. The average price seems to be in the $30-$50 range. Periodic sales and promotions can bring the price of individual course as low as $5.

Courses that are more in-demand or taught by higher-profile artists rarely—if ever—go on sale. Don’t hold your breath waiting to pay $5 for Steve Vai’s “Alien Guitar Secrets: Passion & Warfare” or Joe Bonamassa’s “Blues-Rock Masterclass.”

In my experience, TrueFire will occasionally run a sale where EVERYTHING is $5 at some point during the sale. These types of sales will usually have the sale selection change every hour. Unless you plan to stay up for 48 hours straight, there is good chance you will miss the really good stuff.

If you prefer the all-you-can-eat buffet learning style, there is an All Access plan for $29 per month or $249 for a year. As the name suggests, this gives you access to all of the courses on the site.

All Access periodically goes on sale for as low as $19 per month, or $99 per year.

There are a couple downsides of All Access that have kept me from trying it. First, it only offers streaming access. That means you can’t download any of the courses for offline viewing. The worst part is that you lose access to all of the courses if you cancel your subscription.

If I pay for courses, I want to keep them. But that’s just me.

My Favorite Courses (So Far)

While there are literally thousands of courses on TrueFire, here are five courses that I got the most value from. Your mileage may vary.

  • Bruce Arnold’s Guitar Physiology Survival Guide – This course totally changed how I play the guitar. Bruce Arnold walks through all of the common causes of repetitive stress injuries on the instrument, along with some ways to prevent such injuries. For as long as I can recall, my hands would get painful and sometimes feel cold or numb after extended playing. This course helped me fix those issues and improve the efficiency of my fretting and picking hands.
  • Tommy Emmanuel’s Fingerstyle Milestones – I’ve loved instrumental fingerstyle guitar since the first time I heard a Chet Atkins recording. Tommy Emmanuel not only embodies that style of playing—with his own flair—he is an excellent teacher. Within a few lessons, I learned more about playing with a thumbpick and two fingers than I had in over a decade of wishing I could learn.
  • Pat Martino’s The Nature of Guitar – This was actually the first course I ever bought from TrueFire. Pat Martino was an incredible musician with a unique view of the guitar, in part, due to having to relearn the instrument after a brain aneurism left him unable to play. His course walks you through some of the interesting methods he used to visualize the fretboard. A lot of the material went over my head, but I figure it will make sense in another 20 years.
  • Brad Carlton’s Guitar Lab: Putting Sus Chords to Work – For a long time I had been confounded by sus2 and sus4 chords. They always felt like an afterthought. Brad Carlton presents sus chords as an alternative to using the same old major, minor, and seventh chords. Since they are neither major nor minor, they can lend a sense of ambiguity to your music. Now I don’t think twice about reaching for a sus chord when a more typical chord feels stale.
  • Jazz Comping Factory: Chord Options – This is the course I wish I had when I was playing in my high school jazz band. Vignola covers multiple options for playing common jazz chord progressions. My biggest takeaway from this course was how to think about selecting chords to fit in with the other instruments. Frank Vignola is one of my favorite instructors on TrueFire.

Conclusion

As you can tell, I’m a fan of TrueFire. I think a self-directed student who knows what they want to learn can get a lot of value out of a few good courses.

If you struggle with holding yourself accountable—or even practicing on a regular schedule—I would say in-person lessons would be a better investment. That said, I know from experience that access to a good teacher depends heavily on luck and living in the right place.

Also, your chances of getting one-on-one lessons with Steve Vai, Joe Bonamassa, or Tommy Emmanuel are pretty slim.

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